My outline of world history says only that Jahangir was given to drink, and that, as Empress, Mehrunnisa ran the show. It wasn't that easy, of course. Mehrunnisa, who repeatedly reflects that she wishes she were a man, forms a junta with her father, brother and the heir-apparent to the throne, Shah Jahan, and ruthlessly exploits Jahangir's love to seize ever increasing authority and power. In the process she violates most conventions of Mughal society. For starters, she leaves the zenana, the harem, to stand beside her husband at public audiences where she begins making official pronouncements. This offends Jahangir's advisors who are also his lifelong friends, male chauvinist pigs that they are.
Well, possibly they are, but as the story progresses, it becomes ever more difficult to sympathize with Mehrunnisa. She is the most powerful person in the world's most advanced civilization, but while she is wily as a fox, she isn't necessarily wise as an owl. She crushes opposition in the zenana where she ruins lives and alienates her few supporters. They get their revenge. A well-contrived accident terminates Mehrunnisa's pregnancy and her potential for mothering a dynasty. She exiles Jahangir's chief advisor to Kabul where he swears vengeance. She has to arrange a less than desirable marriage for her daughter who is unenthusiastic about producing males who will have to fight for the throne. Even her co-conspirators in the junta come to despise her.Mehrunnisa's turn for the dark side was nicely portrayed by Sundaresan. The Twentieth Wife, she was a bit fluffy, and wide eyed - this was definitely not the case in The Feast. Her transformation and intoxication with power was engaging to observe, and forms a strong theme in the book. The sense of place and history was very well done. I highly recommend this series to any one, but particularly anyone interested in the Mughal period of rule in Indian history. I really hope Sundaresan keeps writing sequels until eventually reaching modern day India.
If only my history books were half this engaging. It gets quite boring seeing the fomulaic spattering of who conquered who, when and how fast in the dry discourse typical of historians. This historical fiction is so engaging, I may have to go find another one now. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. All in all I give Feast of Roses 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.